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The concept of FloodMAR, explained | Q&A

FloodMAR redirects water that would usually flow to the ocean into farmland and orchards, recharging depleted aquifers in the Central Valley

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The recent wet weather has prompted controversy due to the amount of water flowing straight to the ocean, rather than storing and using it here in California. 

One project, known as FloodMAR, is an integrated and voluntary resource management strategy using flood water resulting from, or in anticipation of, rainfall or snow melt for managed aquifer recharge (MAR) on agricultural lands and working landscapes, including but not limited to refuges, floodplains, and flood bypasses, according to the Department of Water Resources.

ABC10 spoke with Wes Miller, supervising engineer for the Turlock Irrigation District, about the concept of FloodMAR.

This interview has been edited for brevity.

What is FloodMAR and how was it relevant during the recent wet weather?

Miller: So we ended up here locally with a lot of flash flood flows. The water enters our system and then typically is evacuated to the rivers just for safety purposes because it is a flood risk. Usually the idea is to get the water out as quickly as possible. What happened here recently, what we're doing since mid December is the concept of FloodMar. This concept of FloodMar is using floodwaters, flood flows that typically would be flushed out to the river system and through the Delta and out into the ocean for more or managed aquifer recharge. We are trying to figure out a way to use that water instead of getting out of the system by putting it onto agricultural land that can accept it while mitigating flood risk.

How is the water transported to the fields?

Miller: This is a gravity fed open channel canal system. We have our main reservoir, Don Pedro, which is below the Hetch Hetchy system up in the Sierras. It's a little over 2 million acre feet. This is a substantial reservoir and we make deliveries out of there through gravity fed canals. It's up above in the hills, so it runs down like a river through our system of canals and then into the fields.

What role does the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act play in this?

Miller: The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act basically says that groundwater basins in the state of California have to be sustainable, meaning you can't take out more than what the aquifers can supply. This concept of FloodMar is just one of the tools in the toolbox that groundwater sustainability agencies, which we are a part of, as well. It's one of the tools that we have to try to become sustainable in the future. So it's gonna take a lot of things, this is one of them. And if the process can be streamlined, where people could actually apply the water legally, it would really open up the floodgates on how to really do some good because I mean, we only put on 10 acre feet or roughly today. But if you could scale it, you know, larger in a large way in the entire state, it could really make a huge difference in sustainability.

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